Affiliate Programs

Newspapers Begin Staking Out Affiliate Programs – AdExchanger

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Written by publishing team

Affiliate marketing is old news, but not for newspapers.

Most emerging and old lifestyle publishers, such as Refinery29 or Condé Nast, and early digital news companies had affiliate networks quietly operating on growing and reliable revenue streams. Now some newspapers, built on stilts of ramshackle subscriptions and print advertising, are starting to pitch the idea.

Chris Zoeller, the newspaper’s director of strategic marketing, said the Charleston-based Post and Courier, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, hired an employee last year to build an affiliate marketing program.

“We realized that it would take someone who could evaluate networks to work with, figure out how to monitor them and focus on partners and monetization,” Zoeller said. There are also strategic decisions, such as whether you want to associate with a merchant who pays per click or with performance-driven results like sales or leads.

Since then, Post and Courier has created an online coupon service, online fairs where local businesses can showcase products and an affiliate link program by partnering with the traffic startup VigLink to monetize their traffic.

VigLink founder and CEO Oliver Robb said newspapers require more hands-on partnerships to be comfortable with the affiliate linking service.

A VigLink product sorts stories and adds affiliate links when context or keyword indicates a reader is ready to make a purchase. The company then orders from its own group of online retailers and advertisers, Rob said.

With Post and Courier, this service is limited to some featured sections but no policy or breaking news, and the text is green to distinguish from typical links placed by the publisher. Sensitive stories are also flagged to prevent any affiliate links.

VigLink’s link insertion service is not fully automated because the potential for a brand security tool still requires a level of human supervision.

“These tools are tried-and-true, so they’re not perfect,” Rob said, “but we’ve gotten to the point where our publishers feel they’re covered.”

Newspapers’ reluctance to delve into commission-link programs has less to do with brand integrity concerns as it has to do with a newspaper’s long-standing mandate to serve readers and the community, rather than earning a commission on selling products and services, Zoeller said.

The biggest difference between running a newspaper affiliate program compared to digital first or lifestyle publishers, Zoeller said, is that “they probably have a bigger team focused on this and more experience.”

Some of the biggest names in print news are also in the testing and learning phase of affiliate marketing. The New York Times spent more than $30 million last year on Wirecutter, an online product recommendation company that it began incorporating into consumer and technology coverage.

“When we were going through referrals to affiliate partners, it became clear that not many media companies do that on the newspaper side,” Zoeller said. “It feels like we’re in new territory here.”

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